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Deep probe : investigating the lithosphere of western North America with refraction seismology Gorman, Andrew Robert

Abstract

The Laurentian Craton, composed of the exposed Canadian Shield ringed by sediment-covered platforms, is the Precambrian heart of North America. The craton can be divided into several provinces representing ancient Archean blocks and the suture regions which stitched them together. In western Canada, Montana and Wyoming, the general distribution of Precambrian cratonic elements has been established by previous potential field studies combined with the analysis of basement rocks extracted from a small number of exploration drill holes that penetrated the overlying sedimentary basin, and from limited outcrops in southern Montana and Wyoming. The major blocks identified in this region include the Archean Hearne (mostly beneath Alberta) and Wyoming (beneath Montana and Wyoming) Provinces. A third block, the Medicine Hat Block, often interpreted to be the southernmost part of the Hearne Province, is considered independent in this study. The objectives of this thesis are to determine the velocity structure and characteristics of the crust and sub-crustal lithospheric mantle beneath the three Archean domains and the relationships among them to further understanding of the tectonic development of cratonic western North America. These objectives are met through interpretation of data from the Deep Probe / SAREX seismic refraction experiment of 1995, the largest of its type ever undertaken on the continent. Twenty large chemical explosions were detonated along a 3000-km-long profile running from Great Slave Lake to southern New Mexico and recorded at ~ 2000 closely spaced seismograph stations between central Alberta and northern New Mexico. Interpretations, of increasing complexity, are based on: (1) the tau-p downward continuation of individual shot records, (2) a raytheoretical travel-time inversion with Earth curvature considerations, and (3) detailed modelling of specific features with a finite difference wave propagation method. Interpretations of velocities and structures are made to depths as great as 150 km. From features of the crustal structure and their correspondence with two north-dipping relict subduction zones in the upper mantle, the boundaries between the three major Archean blocks are delineated and associated with the Vulcan Structure and Great Falls Tectonic Zone, two poorly understood tectonic features in the region. A prominent 10-to-30 km thick high velocity layer at the base of the Wyoming Province and Medicine Hat Block is interpreted to represent Proterozoic crustal underplating and alteration. The composition and physical properties of the crust-mantle boundary, the relict subduction zones and a heterogeneous upper mantle layer lying between depths of 100 km and 140 km are investigated to further understand lithospheric development in this region. The seismic interpretation is combined with previous work to develop a revised scenario for the tectonic assembly of western Laurentia.

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